A partnership of Tyne Rivers Trust, the Forestry Commission and Northumberland Wildlife Trust has received a grant of more than £40,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a project on the heritage of water voles in Kielder Forest.
The project will work with volunteers from the local community to pave the way for a future reintroduction of the once common water vole. It will work with the local community to prepare the way for the future return of the water vole to the Kielder area, including training and educating volunteers to monitor for mink, working with schoolchildren to teach them about water voles and collating recollections of this once common creature.
Once this preparation work is completed, an application for further funding will be made for the second phase of the project: To reintroduce water voles to the Kielder area.
Key to the success of this phase is the Forestry Commission and Tyne Rivers Trust’s ongoing work to improve rivers in Kielder Forest, as well as Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s expertise in breeding and releasing water voles.
The water vole, brought to life as Ratty in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, is now thought to be absent in the Kielder area. The population of its main antagonist, the introduced North American mink, is thought to have significantly reduced in recent years, thanks in part to recovering otters, but water voles do not like to travel long distances, making it difficult for them to re-colonise mink-free areas.
Kevin O’Hara, senior conservation officer at Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said: “Building on many years’ success in otter conservation, it is right that we now focus on the water vole and its current plight. After a long decline this funding gives us real hope of reversing the situation and bringing this charismatic little animal back to our riverbanks where it belongs.”
Explaining the importance of the HLF support, head of the HLF in the North East, Ivor Crowther, said: “Supporting the Kielder Water Vole project will enable the local community to conserve another threatened species in our countryside. HLF’s grant will help create valuable opportunities for local people to celebrate and share their knowledge of the surrounding environment and the importance of wildlife conservation.”